Any changes to your breasts can be nerve-racking if you have a history of breast cancer. However, itchy breasts are not typically a cause for concern. There are lots of reasons why your breasts may feel itchy, including dry skin. However, if the symptom continues despite at-home remedies, consult your doctor to determine the cause and receive guidance on a treatment strategy.
Here are some potential issues to consider, along with insights from MyBCTeam members who have faced the same issue.
Dry skin is a common culprit behind itchiness, especially for those undergoing chemotherapy. Keeping the skin hydrated with gentle, fragrance-free moisturizers can ease this discomfort. Members of MyBCTeam have reported itching after breast cancer surgeries and procedures, such as port removal. “I just had my chemo port removed the past week and have developed itching all around the port incision, almost like a rash,” shared a MyBCTeam member.
Radiation therapy can also lead to itchiness. Skin in the treated area may become dry and sensitive, and this irritation can cause itching. “I had a breast rash for three years after radiation therapy,” said a MyBCTeam member.
It’s essential to follow your health care provider’s advice on how to care for your skin during and after radiation treatment to minimize side effects.
Targeted therapy focuses on proteins that regulate the growth, division, and spread of cancer cells. Targeted therapies may also trigger dry skin and rashes. In addition, hormone changes — whether due to hormonal therapies or natural processes like menstruation, menopause — can lead to changes in skin texture and itchiness. Hormonal treatments for breast cancer might have an impact on your skin, so it’s important to discuss any changes with your health care provider.
A few less-common types of breast cancer may be associated with itchiness. Paget’s disease of the breast affects the nipple and spreads to the areola, causing flaky skin, itching, and tingling or burning sensations. It usually affects people over age 50. Experts believe Paget’s disease of the breast is related to cancer of the breast ducts.
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is another rare form of breast cancer that can cause changes in the skin of the breast. The American Cancer Society reports that between 1 percent to 5 percent of people with breast cancer have IBC. One of the early symptoms of IBC is breast itchiness. Unlike other types of breast cancer, IBC may block lymph vessels in the skin, leading to color changes, swelling, itching, and thickening of the skin known as peau d’orange (orange skin).
Sometimes, IBC is mistaken for a breast infection like mastitis, especially if the person is breastfeeding when symptoms occur. Some members of MyBCTeam shared their stories of having itchy breasts before getting diagnosed with breast cancer, urging others not to ignore their symptoms.
“I wish someone had told me about itchy breasts as a symptom of cancer. My breast would get so itchy I would scratch until I could not stand it. I have always had sensitive skin, so I didn’t think much about it. The itch would come and go,” said one member.
“I remember telling my daughter my boobs itched back when I was about 47. I was diagnosed at 50, so I figure that the itching was my cancer was starting,” responded another.
Atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, is an ongoing skin condition characterized by dryness and itching. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that can cause itchy skin. While skin conditions may not be caused by breast cancer, it’s possible to have more than one health condition at the same time. In addition, a buildup of stress from life with breast cancer can make existing eczema symptoms worse.
Learning ways to manage stress and seeking the guidance of a dermatologist can help you get skin conditions under control.
Although itchiness can be uncomfortable, it’s typically not a direct sign of breast cancer and might be a temporary side effect of treatment. Discuss any new symptoms, including itching, with your health care team to address discomfort and determine if additional treatment is needed. Ultimately, if something doesn’t feel right about your body, you should follow up until you feel like you’re being heard. Everyone experiences symptoms differently, and your intuition can be a powerful tool in protecting your health.
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 65,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their tips with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Did you experience itchy skin or other skin changes during your breast cancer journey? Have you found a skin care routine, such as over-the-counter products and creams, that helps? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.